The Solution to Climate Change

Joseph Romm is one of the most respected writers on climate policy. Here is a summary of his thoughts on what is necessary to avert catastrophic warming:

We have to bring down the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere to between 350-450 parts per million (ppm) to avoid the hellish worst of climate change. Economically and technologically, this is quite doable. However, it is not plausible in the current political climate. Because the alternative is unacceptable, we will get there, but to do so we must all become familiar with the best solutions, and then loudly push our political leaders toward them.
Continue reading “The Solution to Climate Change”

Coal and Politics

Update: now cross-posted at It’s Getting Hot in Here.

At Grist Magazine, they like to refer to coal as the Enemy of the Human Race. And, while that’s a bit of a rhetorical flourish, it’s true that coal is unavoidably one of the dirtiest ways possible to produce energy. If you’re interested in finding out more about the entire process of using coal for energy, I encourage you to read Big Coal, by Jeff Goodell.

But what I want to write about today is inspired by a Huffington Post article by Jesse Jenkins, of The Breakthrough Institute and It’s Getting Hot in Here. I’m generally pretty skeptical of Shellenberger & Nordhaus’ thinktank, but I met Jesse at Powershift, and this article is pretty good. Its overall message is the same as everything out of their thinktank; in order to be successful, environmental messages need to be framed around things that people care about more, like jobs and the economy. Specifically, the article runs down what it dubs the “Technology Fifteen”, i.e. fifteen “moderate” senators from the interior of the country who have banded together to have a voice on climate issues.

So, I thought I’d look a little further into specifically the geography of coal as it relates to politics. I put up a Google Docs spreadsheet with my data. All my data’s from the Energy Information Administration, the government office whose job it is to make public this sort of stuff.

Essentially, I ranked all the states by 1. Percentage of energy supply that comes from coal, 2. Number of people in the state employed by the coal industry, and 3. Coal production. Theoretically, members of congress from these states would be less inclined to support legislation aimed to breaking America’s coal addiction. This metric is likely even a more significant factor than their ideology. Anyways, here is the list of states:

  1. West Virginia
  2. Wyoming
  3. Kentucky
  4. Pennsylvania
  5. Virginia
  6. Illinois
  7. Texas
  8. Indiana
  9. North Dakota
  10. Montana
  11. Utah
  12. Colorado
  13. Alabama
  14. New Mexico
  15. Ohio

So which senators represent these states who might be of interest? Well, a few of the states are represented by very conservative senators, and we can be pretty sure how they’ll vote on energy legislation already. Some others have a League of Conservation score of 100% for 2008, so we can be fairly sure that they will vote well. And what do you know, taking out those two bunches leaves us with just fifteen senators. Here they are, starting with those from the coal-iest state, West Virginia:

  1. Byrd (D)
  2. Rockefeller (D)
  3. Dorgan (D)
  4. Conrad (D)
  5. Specter (R)
  6. Webb (D)
  7. Warner (D)
  8. Burris (D)
  9. Lugar (R)
  10. Bayh (D)
  11. Udall (D)
  12. Bennet (D)
  13. Udall (D)
  14. Voinovich (R)
  15. Brown (D)

Burris and Bennet have not heald a seat in congress before, so LCV has no rankings for them. Otherwise, these senators are ranked by coal-iness and then by LCV ranking.

So what does this mean? Well, Obama and Senate Democrats are looking for moderate Republicans to vote with them in order to break filibusters. Voinovich, Lugar, and Specter are identified by Nate Silver as in the top five prospects for this, along with the two Maine senators. I would suggest that the three of them might be less likely to flip on anti-coal legislation than they might be otherwise.

On the other side, Nate recognizes Dorgan, Conrad, Baucus, Tester, Byrd, and Webb as potential problems for Obama, but not as big problems as four conservative Democrats from non-coal states.

So, we’ll see. Keep an eye on these senators when energy bills come to the senate.

Same Old Leaders in Energy Investment

I’m surprised that I got to this front page article in the New York Times before either Grist or Climate Progress (I don’t subscribe to info-overload Treehugger anymore). Titled “Gulf Oil States Seeking a Lead in Clean Energy”, there are a few points that need to be touched on:

  1. There’s certainly some greenwashing going on here. These nations contribute overwhelmingly to the production of one of the most ubiquitous greenhouse gases. They’d need some pretty big clown shoes to make the huge carbon footprints they’re responsible for. Green investment is stupendous, but that fact can’t be overlooked.
  2. However, their enormous investments are completely out of America and Europe’s league. $25 million to one research team? This leaves us Westerners in the dust. The joke will be on us. “Energy independence”? Ha! At this rate, we’ll finally make the transition to clean energy in a couple decades, only to find that all the supplier companies are Saudi.
  3. Not wanting to stray to far from the traditional media pack, author Elisabeth Rosenthal makes one statement that I quibble a little bit with:

    For the rest of the world, the enormous cash infusion may provide the important boost experts say is needed to get dozens of emerging technologies — like carbon capture, microsolar and low-carbon aluminum — over the development hump to make them cost-effective.

    Yes, having coal plants not emit CO2 would be good. However, carbon capture is just not in the same league of clean tech as Concentrated Solar Power (CSP), more efficient, cheaper, and more sustainable photovoltaic cells, and other really clean technologies.

Anyway, I hope Romm and Roberts pick up on this soon. I’d love to read their commentary.

Coal and Fly Ash

Devilstower on Daily Kos has a phenomenal (I mean truly amazing) article up today about fly ash in coal, you know, the stuff that spilled in Tennessee recently. Seems like the stuff’s really toxic, and it’s managed about as well as that big scary essay is managed by an over-procrastinating high school student. We’ll just put this over here and deal with it later.

But really, you should go read Devilstower’s article. It’s fantastic. And if you’re interested in learning more about our cheap-as-in-poor-quality energy supply, take a look at Big Coal, by Jeff Goodell, which looks deeply and objectively into every aspect of the coal lifecycle, from mine to train to plant to outlet. Wonderful book.